More not than ready, the alarm tolls for me at 5:15 AM. As I, quite literally, roll out of bed, a knot forms in my gut. Shit. It's race day.
In utter blackness, I feel my way to the bathroom. Why is it so dark? Oh, it's almost August, that's why. When daylight's on the shrink, I feel the noose of winter cinching tighter and tighter around my neck. It's not so much winter's chill as it is all encompassing darkness that dims my spirit.
Already I'm showing signs of anxiety...A quickening pulse, flitting butterflies. Why am I still doing stupid things? Things that might throw near septuagenarian hearts into A-fib...or worse? A voice in my head volunteers an answer: Because without challenge, Mark, you're not a "happy camper," and you might as well be be dead.
This day has been circled on my calendar for a good while, along with a note that reads: "Race Leon up Camp Bird Road to mine/Yankee boy."
Might this be the day I rise to the occasion...maybe surprise myself, not to mention my younger, slightly-uglier-but-faster arch nemesis, Leon? Or, will I get inched out yet again near the end on Heartbreak Hill?
I close the door and flip on the light. Well, now I can add temporary blindness to temporary insanity. As my eyes slowly adjust, I'm shocked by the reflection. Huh, who's that wrinkled old man with disheveled hair and face? Remnants of last night's toothpaste encrust both corners of his turned-down turtle mouth. He washes his face and brushes teeth, yellowed from a decades old addiction to Columbian Beans.
I hear Bobbie roll out of bed, coughing as she heads off to start coffee, while I attempt to tame the old man's serious case of Bed-Head with warm water and comb. The aroma of coffee finds me. Ah caffeine, my morning drug of choice. Without coffee, my day would start around noon when it's too hot to do anything. Nowadays, it takes two strong hand-pressed cups to get me out the door.
Sipping my drug, I realize how long it's been since I beat Leon...at anything. Don't get me wrong, I love Leon. I'm normally happy to sacrifice my ego an the alter of his self esteem. But sometimes, like today, I just wish he'd turn an ankle...or maybe come down with a touch of food poisoning from all that oatmeal he devours every morning, or from whatever that green algae-like shit is that he washes it down with. I can see him at the front door...green streaks at the corners of his sheep-grin mouth and down his t-shirt. I mean, how does an eggs, bacon and waffles guy compete with that? I'm talking about a guy with one percent body fat.
Anyway, back to the date circled on the calendar. I've (graciously) lost the last 4 races up Camp Bird Road to Pal Leon...me on my mountain bike, him on foot. He always catches up to me at the same spot, near the end of a relentless, quad wrenching, lung-burning section of washboard, with loose gravel and deeply rutted from thunderstorms. If he wasn't so skinny, sweaty, and Charles Manson-like, I'd swear tourist Jeepers were giving him rides.
I've been looking for an excuse to get rid of my Cannondale Bad Habit fat-tire for a while now. I'm about convinced that it's more responsible for my loses than I am. It's heavy and clunky, for one thing (two actually), and it tends to wander with a mind of it's own when climbing in "granny gear." I can't keep it on the trail to save my life.
Thus, on Saturday afternoon before Sunday's race, I head down to Ridgway Adventure Sports in a legitimate effort to test my "bikes-at-fault hypothesis." Yep, I rent one of those new, light-as-a-feather super bikes! I'm talking carbon fiber frame, Drop Post seat, 29 inch wheels, alloy rims, and holes drilled in virtually every non-critical component to save a tenth of an ounce here and there. It has a single front sprocket and, count 'em, no less than 15 sprockets on the rear wheel—the smallest being about the size of a quarter, the largest being about the size of a hubcap off a '59 Pontiac Bonneville. That sucker has more teeth than an entire Mormon family.
I choose a sleek, top of the line, dark gray on black Norco. It shimmers with florescent new-ness...flirts with my ego like some New Orleans hooker. It has a seat so painfully slender it hurts to even look at it...skinny enough render a lesser man impotent before he could ride out of town. With razor thinness, zero padding, and hard plastic shell, it's likely the world's best "anti-theft" device. By the end of my little once-around-the-block test ride I was all but tearing up. How I'm going to withstand the pain and blisters imposed by that knife-edge seat sexually assaulting my rectum all the way up to Camp Bird Mine?
But there are times in a man's life when the price of victory is high. This, is one of those times. I hand the shop owner a hundred dollar bill and say, If I beat Leon to Camp Bird Mine, I'll might be writing you a check tomorrow. Then: Oh, by the way, what's a bike like this run? The shop owner pauses, stares out the window, tapping his upper lip and cyphering. I can get you on this one for around 53 hundred, plus tax.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you (drum roll) NORCO...
Early the next morning Bobbie counts us down in our driveway: Three, two, one, GO! I get a hole shot on Leon cause he's fiddling with his new Gaia App. A half mile down Oak Street I breeze by Rv friends Chris and Mindy. They're holding up a white trash bag with, "Go Mark" written on it. I guess word got out...our biggest crowd ever!
Adrenaline surges. It's still early and cool as I kick ass up through Lovely Ouray's sleepy downtown. I wonder if this might be the day I beat Leon, if this might be my next bike. Just beyond a sweeping 180 degree switchback, I turn right on Camp Bird Road. It's steep and I'm forced to gear down to "Granny." A hundred yards, give or take, and the pavement peters into loose washboard gravel. Nerve endings in my ass begin to fray and revolt. God it's going to be a long painful ride on a bicycle seat designed by Communist Chinese. "
Ha. We give Yankee imperialist big pain in ass!"
|Three, two, one, GO!|
It only takes one mile of Camp Bird Road for me to break a sweat. Droplets become rivulets, rivulets streams, streams rivers; salty perspiration streaks down-face into eyes. Time to unzip the jersey and rip off the helmet. I careen out of control attempting to loop helmet straps over handlebars...steering with one hand while pedaling one of the steepest sections of Camp Birds loose-gravel, washboard road. Donning my new, too small, florescent pink Nike sweatband proves no easier. Fortunately, Jeepers and ATVers are still sleeping off last nights dinner and drinks.
Both hands back on the bars, I regain leverage needed to grind upward. Above and beyond the uproar of nerve endings in my ass, I feel pain and strain in places I've never noticed before. Shoulders, lats, and lower back cry out at this new bike's "geometry." I realize a death-grip on the bars. Try to relax, Mark. Deep, even breathing.
I know every inch and every secret Camp Bird Road holds. I know all the places where grade relents oh-so-slightly. There, I grab higher gears and mash pedals...driving the sliver of a seat-from-hell further into a place where the sun doesn't shine. When my ass can no longer take it, I stand and pedal...a sordid test of anaerobic tolerance and a random clogged artery—all rolled into one. And, as the Carpenter's song goes, "we've only just begun...heartbreak and promises."
Just as I'm feeling the combined double-whammy of grade and elevation, Camp Bird Road grants a brief pardon: A level to slightly downhill section...just before the second bridge and a lapse into unconsciousness. I chomp through gears like a bag of Skittles, all the way to the quarter size rear sprocket. I'm flying. Leon will never catch this bike. I imagine ways to break the expenditure to Bobbie.
Just beyond the second bridge, I snap back to reality: the long, long haul on up to the mine, on a road so steep that, should you loose momentum and stop, you must point the bike downhill in order to get going again. This involves pulling a U-turn in loose gravel, easier said than done. One by one, things begin to fall apart. I'm forced to zigzag across the entire road in order to keep a modicum of momentum required to stay upright...something that rarely happens on my "clunky" Cannondale. Hmmmm.
Still, when grade relents in the least, it seems like I'm going faster. I'm certainly not holding anything in reserve. On a scale from 1 to 10, my P E (Perceived Exertion) feels pegged at 11. Dear Lord, I have nothing more to give excepting my pitiful pointless life.
The struggle is far from over. I feel any edge I may have gained at the beginning quickly slip-sliding away. I gulp air in such loud, hoarse gasps that I don't hear Leon the Lion closing in on his baby wildebeest lunch.
Suddenly, I feel a hand pressing on my back. It's pushing me! Of course it's Leon. I congratulate him on catching me, again, then unleash a 20 second barrage of expletives to express my disappointment...half aimed at me, half at my so called "super-bike." I try to catch Leon, who slows either to wait on me or taunt. He yells something about having a shot at knocking a minute or two off our best time (an hour and 15 minutes).
I'm spent...out of gas...wad shot. There could be a million bucks waiting at Camp Bird Mine for a one fifteen, and it wouldn't matter a bit. There's nothing left for me to do but tie a knot in the hangman's noose and hang on long enough to finish Heartbreak Hill...the final rise. Two thirds of the way up, my legs go on strike and my ass goes up in flames. It's going to take a team of Proctologist surgeons to remove the seat from hell from my ass if I don't get off now! So I bail... push my super bike the final 25 yards to the top. My Gaia App reads six miles and one hour and 18 minutes, a full 3 minutes slower than my last two times riding up on my "clunky" ole Cannondale. WTF?
I'm spread-leg and gasping...head resting on the seat from hell. Leon takes pity, rolls the bike near a grove of aspens. I stumble over and collapse in the shade, trying to digest what the fuck just happened. How and Why, on a brand new top of the line bike, I lose 3 minutes!
In the end, Leon and those 3 lost minutes saved me well over $5,000 bucks...not a bad consolation prize for last place. Perhaps the brightest side to this story is that I lived to tell it. Suddenly, my clunky old Cannondale looks pretty good.
|At Camp Bird Mine, Leon test rides my rental bike...|
After resting and rehydrating for 30 minutes, we decide to continue on up the road to Yankee Boy in search of Bobbie. She's up there somewhere hiking with 7 pound hand-weights.
Leon wants to accompany me to Ridgway when I return the obviously defective Super Bike.
The shop owner is eager to hear how the race went. He appears chagrined when I tell him it took 3 minutes longer than on my Cannondale. We discuss gear ratios... 29 inch versus 27.5 inch wheels, in search of a plausible explanation for my slower time. I assure him that it wasn't an off day...to not lay blame at my feet because, if anything, I wanted to win that race in the worst way, and I put out more effort than on any previous ride up Camp Bird. He responds that one ride does not a "scientific" sample make, and suggested I try again.
Not on that bike! I replied.
So I guess I won't be spending big bucks on a new bike. Maybe I should look into something with an electric motor.
Naw. I'll take losing over cheating, any day.
What can I say...just another day of play in Lovely Ouray. Next race comes up this weekend. Leon and I are thinking about riding from Ridgway to Dallas Divide, then left on Last Dollar Road up to the pass. I have a fond memory of beating Leon to the pass last time. But it was several years ago...before I was a Geezer.
Mark, Bobbie, and Leon the champion. They should put him on the Wheaties box!